Jay's Head
The Ghost and the Machine, p. 2

In my office, because everything that is here is here for me, my desire is intrinsically attached to every object I perceive. Let me back up and explain first what I mean by desire being attached to things. A teacher of mine, Rabbi David Cooper, recently pointed out to me that most of us immediately associate our desire with absolutely everything we see. We either like something, don't like something, or are completely neutral on something -- and the neutral state very quickly resolves into a moderate desire ("it's okay") or moderate dislike ("meh"). If we hear a sound, it is either noisy or beautiful. If we see a person, or a building, or even a tree, we immediately ascribe to it characteristics that are bound up with our desire: beautiful, ugly, cool, stupid, annoying, awesome. It's very hard to just back up and see things for what they are, not for the impressions they make on us. And yet it is a gateway to greater awareness.

This is why people are often frustrated when some spiritual teachers talk about what enlightenment is. Teachers often seem to just state the obvious, like the Buddha showing a flower to Bodhidharma. "Just be here now." "Just be aware of what is around you." You might think this is a letdown -- isn't there supposed to be a flash of light, or an angel, or something?

Really, an enlightened consciousness sees just what you or I see. Enlightened beings do not walk around in a world other than ours. They simply perceive it without the blinders of closed perception, small mind, egocentric thinking, selfish desire; they perceive the world directly, not mediated and colored by their preferences of how they would prefer each aspect of it to be.

This is what I mean about desire attaching to objects. It is hard enough sitting in a field without desire-izing everything we see (mosquitos: bad; flowers: good; sun: good, but could get bad; pain in legs: bad; etc.). How much harder it is to do so in a place where everything really is about our desire. The air conditioning is designed to make me feel better. The checkbook cover is designed for me to like it. The camera here is designed to bring me pleasure. Even if I am totally at peace with what is around me, and am content with my messy office, imperfect view, etc., the fact remains that everything is about me.

In contrast, one of the most important teachings of environmental ethics is the point that nature does not exist for us. Trees are not "resources." The rainforest is not valuable because there may be a cure for cancer inside. From an ethical point of view, everything in nature has its own interests. And from a point of view of mindfulness, everything in nature is its own manifestation of Being.

Spiritual practice is largely about understanding that, while God is always here, we are not. We are often lost in our minds, planning for the future, worrying about the past, anywhere but here and now -- all the more so when everything around us exists for the ego. When everything is centered around human life, it's hard to remember our true context in the universe and the unreality of our own constructed selves.

My second point: If it is hard to see Being manifest in objects created for people, it is also hard to see Being in things created by people.
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August 2002

jay's head
josh ring